Tips to help kids with autism transition back to in-person school

Tips to help kids with autism transition back to in-person school

MIND Institute experts offer advice to help with the change, as well as what’s likely to be different in the classroom this year

Heading back to school after summer break can be tough for some students, but this year is unique. Because of the pandemic, distance learning and hybrid schedules have been the norm for over a year, and many kids haven’t spent a full, regular week at school since March of 2020.

For children with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences, transitions like this can be extra challenging. “Routines are important for kids, and the long absence from the classroom, the mask-wearing and other changes mean they have to learn an entirely new school routine,” said Patricia Schetter, a board-certified behavior analyst who coordinates the Autism Education Initiatives for the Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Kids and masks

“The biggest thing I’ve been working on with patients throughout this pandemic is mask-wearing,” said Erin Engstrom, a licensed clinical psychologist at the MIND Institute who specializes in anxiety treatment for kids with neurodevelopmental conditions. “Masks themselves are a big transition. For some kids, it’s wearing the mask – especially for a long period of time. For others, it’s seeing other people, like teachers and cafeteria staff, wearing masks. I have patients who are venturing out for the first time in awhile and they have expressed a lot of uncertainty about seeing everyone wearing masks. That can be challenging to process,” Engstrom explained.

How to help: To get students used to wearing a mask, have them wear one at home for a short period and gradually increase it to a significant period of time. This social story, a step-by-step guide with photos about wearing masks from the MIND Institute may help. This guide for helping kids get comfortable with masks is also useful.

How to help kids transition to a new school

How to help kids transition to a new school

While August is National Back to School Month, children can enter new schools year-round. This year looks a lot different since kids are going back to being in school full time, which means it’s crucial that children receive support when making this challenging transition.

As kids shift from an online environment to in person learning, it can impact them differently. For example, kids with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often do better when they go back to school because they must follow structure and routine. Alternatively, there are kids who have a history of social anxiety and may not look forward to going back to in person since online schooling gave them psychological respite. To help all children return to school, it’s important to add traditional forms of play (i.e., board games, to sports or musical instruments), to develop creativity, imagination and improve social-moral development when playing with other kids in a group setting.

In some cases, kids may be both going back to in-person learning while adjusting to an entirely new school. This can bring on mixed emotions with thoughts about the unknown: will they fit in, make friends, get along with teachers, etc. The emotions that carry the most weight depends on their level of confidence and resilience based on previous school experiences.

Below are tips for parents, foster parents and teachers with kids who are entering a new school:

Tips for parents and foster parents:

• Enlist your child in activities that they are interested in learning about! Meeting kids with common interests can help lay the foundation of creating a support network of friends.

• If your child has an IEP or 504 plan, then have the services get transferred immediately to minimize any school related stress. For example, kids with learning disabilities will have anxiety about their performance and not meeting expectations. Having these services in place as soon as possible will help minimize the anxiety of transition.

• Prior to starting, families can tour the school and meet the teachers so the kids can understand the environment.

• Kids can have an object in their possession that is comforting or creates a sense of safety for them to alleviate the stress.

Tips for teachers:

• Get educated about the child’s experience with foster care.

• Create a safe space where the child can go and de-escalate. Talk about the trigger and dysregulated response immediately after the child has calmed down.

• Be pro-active with anticipating future behaviors and setting up a plan of action with the foster parents and child. Discuss a specific plan with the child having a say in the process to improve compliance and good behavior at school.

• When the child escalates, practice taking the one down approach. Do not to react to your child’s emotional dysregulation. Remember that as an adult you are always modeling your responses

• Ask the school counselor for advice on how to relate to the child.

Children with ADHD Need Positive Reinforcement and Other Interventions That Work

Every stage of life is defined by developmental milestones that are shaped or complicated in some way by the symptoms of ADHD.

In children, ADHD symptoms and traits like hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity can influence behavior and performance in the classroom, with friends and family, and out in the world.

Below is an overview of the ADHD experience in childhood, including essential skills, parallel ADHD-related challenges, recommended treatments, and positive parenting strategies from experts that apply to all aspects of this stage of life.

ADHD in Children (6 to 12 Years): Challenges and Solutions

Developmental Milestones in Childhood

In grades 1 through 6, students work to build a rock-solid academic, social, and emotional foundation in the following areas:

  • Reading acquisition and comprehension require sitting still and focusing consistently, a hurdle for children with ADHD.
  • Learning math facts and operations may be thrown off track by distractibility and boredom. This results in careless mistakes like missing digits or skipping steps. Frustration follows.
  • Understanding and following social contracts are harder with emotional dysregulation and poor perspective-taking skills. Children with ADHD often interrupt teachers and classmates, find it hard to keep friends, and act out in anger.
  • Learning to follow multi-step directions — from morning routines to homework assignments — calls on a child’s executive functions, which are weak in the ADHD brain.
  • Building organization skills happens through observation and practice, often a challenge in households where one or more parent has ADHD.

ADHD in Children: Positive Reinforcement Strategies

Positive reinforcement is particularly powerful at this stage of life. When elementary students constantly face punishment and disappointment from parents and teachers, their confidence and self-concept are destroyed. Set a time to discuss undesirable behavior after the immediate, stressful moment has passed. Clear, consistent goals and rewards make a world of difference at this age. Try these strategies:

1. To boost early language skills, align your child’s reading material with his passions and interests. Use graphic novels and audio texts to build a love of books, and engage in the material by asking questions to build his critical-thinking and comprehension skills. Watch the film version of a just-finished book and discuss the differences.

After the ADHD Diagnosis: Experts Answer Your Top 10 Questions

After the ADHD Diagnosis: Experts Answer Your Top 10 Questions

An ADHD diagnosis often answers some big, life-long questions. Then, it quickly raises new ones: What exactly does this mean? What are our options? Where do we go from here?

ADDitude surveyed its community about the important questions you want, and need, answered after you or your child receives an ADHD diagnosis. We asked experts to provide insights and advice to clear up confusion and illuminate a clear path forward.

1. Who is best suited to treat ADHD, and how do I find a qualified professional?

This is the most common question parents and adults ask. It is a reflection of how few experienced ADHD clinicians there are in the world. A survey done at the Mayo Clinic about eight years ago found that the average parents of children with ADHD consulted 11 clinicians before they found one they thought was well prepared.

For a good outcome, ADHD medication and counseling will both be needed. Medications level the neurological playing field so that the person with ADHD has the same attention span, impulse control, and level of arousal as anyone else. The professionals licensed to prescribe controlled substances vary by state. Physicians and nurse practitioners almost always have this authority. Some states also include physician assistants. But you can’t stop at just medication. The work of helping the whole family learn about ADHD, and helping the person with ADHD deal with the emotional aspect, can be done by psychologists, counselors, coaches, and other professionals.

In short, there is no particular specialty or advanced degree that is intrinsically better able to diagnose and treat ADHD. You are looking for someone who wants to treat ADHD — someone who has been willing to put in thousands of hours of her own time to become skilled at it. How do you find one of these rare clinicians?

  • Start by asking friends, family members, parents of your child’s classmates, and members of nearby CHADD or ADDA support groups who they go to and whether they are happy with the care they are receiving.
  • Speak to your shortlist of recommended clinicians and ask: How long have you been working with patients with ADHD? What percentage of your patients have ADHD? Have you received any training in the diagnosis or treatment of ADHD? What is involved in the diagnosis—written tests/interviews? Your typical treatment plan — behavior modification, medication, alternative therapies? What are the costs involved? Do you accept my insurance?
  • Be willing to travel to get the initial evaluation from an expert in ADHD. Many can put you in touch with a provider closer to home for recommended services.
    — William Dodson, M.D

2. Why wasn’t my ADHD diagnosed earlier?

ADHD is no longer considered a “childhood” diagnosis. Since 2014, more adults have been diagnosed with ADHD than children or adolescents. The average age at diagnosis is now in the early 30s. This evolution is due to a number of reasons.

I think my child struggles with reading. What should I do?

I think my child struggles with reading. What should I do?

Share this article As students start returning to school, many will face the Herculean task of becoming proficient readers. Some will be first graders, some fourth graders, and so on. And many of them, as their parents and guardians suspect, will face enormous struggles. If you’re one of these parents or guardians who suspect that your child will struggle with reading, now is the time for action.

Action alone, however, will not be enough. It’s critical that you know what to request and what to avoid. This article focuses on one aspect of what’s critical: Getting a comprehensive reading evaluation. Do three things

If you see your child struggling with reading, stay calm and do three things :

> Learn all you can about reading difficulties and disabilities from trustworthy sources. Keep in mind that difficulties are less severe and less debilitating than disabilities.

Learn about Response to Intervention (RTI).

Make specific written requests, by both email and the USPS.

(To make this article easier to read, and because the terms reading difficulties and disabilities are somewhat murky, we’ll often refer to these students as struggling readers.)

Learn all you can. By learning all you can about reading problems and how to use state and federal education laws, rules, and regulations to help your child, the better you can help her.

Reputable, helpful resources abound. They include the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the International Literacy Association, the U.S. Department of Education, and the What Works Clearinghouse.

Having considerable knowledge about struggles with reading will help you make relevant, focused requests and will help you monitor your child’s progress.

Knowing the intent and the provisions of the laws and their rules and regulations will improve your child’s chances of getting the services she needs, especially if her school refuses to provide them. When dealing with reading struggles, knowledge is as important as air—you need it to support your child’s academic, social, and emotional success.

Ask about Response to Intervention (RTI). Although RTI is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), it serves both students with and without reading disabilities.In part, RTI’s purpose is to prevent both learning disabilities and unnecessary referrals to special education. It does this by screening all young students for learning disabilities, such as reading disabilities, and instructing students at-risk for learning disabilities with scientifically based interventions targeted at remediating their difficulties.As such, RTI requires participating schools to frequently monitor the effects of such instruction on each student’s progress and, if progress is poor, to provide them with more intensive services, such as extra instruction, instruction in small groups, or individual […]

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